Sharron Angle & The B-2 Stealth Bomber Pilot, Together in the 'Lord's Army'
The B-2 "Stealth" bomber is a fearsome weapon, billed as "capable of flying anywhere in the world undetected," to "arrive over its target, release precision munitions, and escape - confident in the fact that the bombs will hit their targets and that the plane will return home safely." It's also one of the most expensive pieces of war machinery on Earth. A single B-2 Stealth bomber rings in, for total program cost, at roughly $2.1 billion dollars per plane.
Three years ago, on a beautiful sunny late Saturday morning on May 27th, 2007, at a Baptist gathering co-hosted by Task Force Patriot, in an amphitheater in the Georgia woods, amidst a group of little more than a hundred people, I heard (and recorded) one of the United States Air Force's elite B-2 bomber pilots state,
"I'm going to have to separate myself from the service of this nation if it's required in order to propagate the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I'm not going to disregard my responsibilities. But if there ever comes a time when there is a priority to be made, a decision to be made, it must always rest in the work of the Lord and the Lord's army. Because that commission is greater than the one I received from the United States Air Force Academy."
[below - excerpt from speech by USAF Major Brian Neal. Audio quality is poor but quote, above, becomes audible at around 19 seconds into recording]
The pilot was Major Brian "Jethro" Neal, and the commission he had received from the Air Force Academy included the charge inherent in an oath, sworn by all members of the US armed forces, that he would,
"support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."
Neal's statement seemed imply that his "commission" in the "Lord's army" superseded his commission, as an Air Force officer, to defend the Constitution and obey the President and the chain of command. As an elected official, Nevada Republican Senate hopeful Sharron Angle has sworn similar oaths, to defend the American Constitution and, by extension, American Democracy. Like Neal, Angle has made statements that suggest she is less than fully committed to Constitutional democracy.
Militarized Christianity at Stone Mountain
The gathering in the Georgia woods happened during the 2007 Memorial Day weekend at the Stone Mountain memorial park near Atlanta. I had been flown down to Stone Mountain, Georgia by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which fights illegal religious proselytizing and coercion in the U.S. armed forces. Most of MRFF's clients are Christian armed forces members who allege being persecuted for holding 'incorrect' versions of the faith.
The Stone Mountain Memorial Day event was one of a widespread pattern we had found, of illegal US military support, flyovers and other displays costing US taxpayer dollars, of nakedly partisan Christian nationalist events celebrating militarism and the American invasion of Iraq.
The Memorial Day event was to feature such extravagances as B-2 bomber flyovers and air-jumps by the U.S. Army's "Silver Wings Parachute Team. As originally advertised in the official publication of Robins Air Force Base, the upcoming 2007 Memorial Day event was billed as "an official US Air Force 60th Anniversary event" sponsored by Task Force Patriot and major Southern Baptist Convention entities such as Holman Bible Publishers and Lifeway, the official SBC marketing wing, which had "joined together to create a three-day celebration..."
Air Force and national guard flyovers are a staple of patriotic public events but Department of Defense regulations govern what sort of events are appropriate for the service. Appeals to "values" can be perfectly acceptable given that there is a wide range of values most Americans support. But as a rule of thumb, flyovers of Christian events are permitted as long as the events in question are non-sectarian to the point that not just Christians generally, but also adherents to other religions and also atheists, would not feel excluded or offended.
A cautionary letter from Americans United For The Separation of Church and State quashed the flyovers but the nature of the event remained the same.
The Stone Mountain event was Southern Baptist Convention through and through and the SBC, which includes between 15 and 20 million Americans, was the only major American Christian Protestant denomination to support the US 2003 invasion of Iraq, a war opposed also by the Catholic Church. On that count alone, the Southern Baptist Convention is anything but generically Christian let alone inclusive.
One of the artifacts I took home from the event was a Holman Christian Standard Bible with a computer generated, pixelated olive-drab camouflage cover, published by the Southern Baptist Convention imprint Holman Bible Publishers, out of Nashville.
It's a new translation of the Bible, by Holman, and features a tacked-on appendix with additions such as the text of the patriotic songs the Star-Spangled Banner and America, the Pledge of Allegiance, a falsified "prayer" incorrectly attributed to George Washington that's often held up by those who claim America was founded as a "Christian nation", and a statement from an organization called the Officer's Christian Fellowship, which counts over 13,000 members in the US military and calls for "A spiritually transformed military, with ambassadors for Christ in uniform."
The OCF's "ambassadors for Christ in uniform" (armed with the world's deadliest weaponry, I would add) could come straight from the pages of Ralph Peters' recent thriller, The War After Armageddon.
Peters' fictitious "Military Order Of The Brothers In Christ," which in his book supplants the US Marine Corps and the secular military, already exists in the skeletal form of the OCF. It's not too much of a stretch to envision the Officers' Christian Fellowship serving, one day, as a parallel command structure.
Tales of 'liberal subversion'
A dominant narrative I heard on Memorial Day weekend in 2007, at Stone Mountain, from Bobby Welch, former President of the Southern Baptist Convention, former pastor and Christian nationalist historian Peter Marshall, and others, was that liberals and "secularists" have stolen, subverted, and/or corrupted the "true" America.
David Barton, who appears every Friday on the Glenn Beck Show to promote his warped, Christian nationalist version of American history has built a career, in part, by promoting such a narrative, which has recent 20th Century historical precedent.
Narratives alleging that liberals and secularists are subverting America have been promoted for decades by American evangelical right leaders such as Texas megachurch pastor and former John McCain endorser John Hagee.
As prominent conservative Baptist scholar David P. Gushee warned in a 2006 series of speeches given at theological seminaries, narratives of cultural complaint and despair to be found currently on the American right share much in common with similar narratives that flourished in pre-fascist and pre-World War Two Germany:
It was this cultural despair -- a toxic brew of reaction against secularism, anger related to the loss of World War I, distress over cultural disorientation and confusion, fears about the future of Germany, hatred of the victorious powers and of those who supposedly stabbed Germany in the back, and of course the search for scapegoats (mainly the Jews) -- that motivated many Germans to adopt a reactionary, authoritarian, and nationalistic ethic that fueled their support for Hitler's rise to power. A broadly appealing narrative of national decline (or conspiratorial betrayal) was met by Hitler's narrative of national revenge leading to utopian unity in the Fuhrer-State.
Do Sharron Angle and Brian Neal know each other? It's irrelevant. The two are tied causally through Task Force Patriot, a ministry with two chapters, one hosted at a Reno, Nevada church Angle attends, the Fellowship Community Church, and they are united symbolically under the Christian Flag.
"...And one Jesus, over all."
What really connects Angle and Neal is a shared, cavalier approach to democracy and government service, and a shared ethic of Christian supremacy embodied in the Task Force Patriot emblem - an American flag, a Christian flag, and a cross in the middle, symbolizing the supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ (and, presumably, those who presume to enforce his will) over all.
Promotion of the Christian Flag as a symbol of American nationalism represents a willful ignorance of the secular origin of American government we can see embodied in a June 2010 media appearance by Sharron Angle.
As Greg Sargent of the Washington Post has noted, Christine O'Donnell is far from the only major Republican candidate of the 2010 election who appears ignorant of the religious liberty guarantees the Founders placed in the Constitution. During a June 29, 2010 interview on Face To Face, Sharron Angle, like O'Donnell, also claimed that the separation of church and state isn't in the Constitution.
As Angle told Ralston,
RALSTON: The separation of church and state arises out of the Constitution.
As Greg Sargent also noted, Sharron Angle has stated that voters might be justified in turning to "Second Amendment remedies" if her political faction does not prevail in the 2010 mid-term election.
In other words, if Angle beats Harry Reid and gains a seat in the United States Senate, great. But if Harry Reid wins, Angle appears to think that her faction might be justified in overthrowing democratically elected government officials who would represent the will of voting majorities.
Robert O. Paxton, author of Anatomy of Fascism, defined fascism as,
"...a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."
Whether a B-52 Stealth Bomber pilot who might choose to prioritize his mission to spread the Gospel and so disregard his oaths as an officer, or a Republican candidate for Senate who floats the idea of armed insurrection of the election doesn't go her way, the ethic which holds that military duty, or in Angle's case adherence to the rule of law and the will of voting majorities, are optional and can be dispensed with if or when it seems convenient to do so is dishonest to the core and bespeaks a contempt for democracy and pluralism common to authoritarian and fascist regimes through the decades and the centuries.
Caveat emptor, America.
Sharron Angle & The B-2 Stealth Bomber Pilot, Together in the 'Lord's Army' | 6 comments (6 topical, 0 hidden)
Sharron Angle & The B-2 Stealth Bomber Pilot, Together in the 'Lord's Army' | 6 comments (6 topical, 0 hidden)